CPL Receives $2 million Grant from Mellon Foundation for the Renaissance Project

Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Public Library Foundation are happy to announce a historic $2 million grant from the Mellon Foundation to power the Renaissance Project, which supports access to Black history-related archives across library branches in the City of Chicago.

Grant funding will allow CPL to digitize and process critical documents related to Black history from the 1800s to the present, bringing high-quality research materials and holistic programming to every branch across the city and support the learning of Black history for a new generation of K-12 Illinois students of all races and backgrounds.

This generous grant will also:

  • Give microgrants to scholars and other storytellers to foster new research or creative work related to Black Studies/Black History.
  • Partner with educators connected to the Illinois State Board of Education’s Inclusive American History Commission (IAHC) to create new open-source curricula and tools that inform teaching of Black history in public secondary and post-secondary schools.
  • Spur collection development activities that continue to bring CPL's archives and special collections closer to matching the diversity of our communities across the city.

Expanding CPL's Collections

The largest collection of African American history, literature and scholarship in the Midwest was started in 1932 under the leadership of CPL’s first Black branch director, Vivian G. Harsh. The collection, now known as the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, is located at Woodson Regional Library. “CPL will continue to honor Harsh’s work by fostering greater access to Black-history-related collections for everyone,” said Stacie Williams, CPL Division Chief of Archives and Special Collections.

A selection of collections that will engage this grant include, but are not limited to:

  • The Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party History Project, a rare audiovisual collection of oral history interviews that document the work of members of the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party.
  • The Ishmael Flory Papers that document the work of the civil rights, labor and radical activist who led several protest movements including the campaign to free activist Angela Davis when she was wrongfully charged with murder, leading to the founding of the National Alliance to End Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR). He also co-founded the African American Heritage Association, an early proponent of African and African American studies.
  • The Brenda Eichelberger/National Alliance of Black Feminists Papers, which documents the work of its founder and first executive director as well as the organization that advanced the cause of Black feminism and centered the local, national, and international struggles of Black women.
  • The Brenetta Howell Barrett Papers, which documents the life work of the activist, civic leader, change agent and the longtime West Side Chicago resident. Significant records of her leadership and key roles in Chicago's civil rights movement as well as in organizations including the Chicago Black United Fund, Pathfinders Prevention Education Fund, and Harold Washington's mayoral campaigns comprise the collection. Records also document hundreds of local and national organizations.
  • James Richardson Papers, which documents the work of Provident Hospital ophthalmologist and civil rights activist from the 1940s through the 1990s. Collection includes rare historical materials from Provident Hospital, the nation's first Black-owned and operated hospital.
  • Doris Saunders Papers, the former CPL librarian at the famed Hall Branch during World War II who went on to work at Johnson Publishing Company, establishing its corporate library and later directing its Book Publishing Division. Collection includes rare material that reflect the history of JPC as well as Chicago's Bronzeville community.
  • Chicago SNCC History Project Archives, which feature rare archival and fragile audiovisual footage of oral histories of Chicago chapter members of one of the nation's leading civil rights organizations.
  • Rev. Addie and Rev. Claude Wyatt Papers, which includes a large photograph collection that document the labor movement work of Addie Wyatt, leading union activist who founded the Coalition of Labor Union Women and co-founded the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists.
  • Glennette Tilley Turner, leading authority on the Underground Railroad in Illinois.
  • Selections of Harold Washington's political papers will also be re-digitized to add metadata that can be read by assistive device readers, so users with disabilities will have enhanced access to collections.

Learn more about CPL's history-related collections, programs, exhibits and other resources.